This was very much “a game of two halves”, with ERGS dominating the first half and Rainey getting on top in the second. Enniskillen played controlled rugby for the first twenty minutes but even with consistent possession they could not break through the resolute home team defence. It took a bit of luck and some quick thinking for ERGS to resolve the impasse. A fumble by Rainey’s back line left the ball in the air long enough for wing, Ben Donaldson, to snatch it and explode towards the Rainey try line, catching everyone off guard and touching down in fine style.
Rainey came back thanks to one of the many penalties gifted them by Royal. From a lineout they rolled an excellent maul up to the Enniskillen try line before they released the ball to their big inside centre. Rainey had their bit of good fortune when the visitor’s centres, Angus Fraser and Thom Morton, clashed heads as they went in for the tackle on the centre allowing the Rainey man to go in under the posts. A good case for the practicing the high/low double tackle!
ERGS finished the half with a try of individual enterprise. Stuart Brown on the left wing was given the ball inside the his own 22m and set off with such speed and determination that it was only mildly surprising to find him come through the entire Rainey defence and run under the posts for a try that out half, George Foster, converted. It is hard to see how Brown will not be soon picked up by the Ulster Academy for their junior squad.
It is to ERGS credit that the school runs a policy that promises “everyone gets to play a full half”. This will lead to stronger players in the future and better long-term results. However, when you bring 9 new players on at halftime you can’t be surprised if the team fails to flow just as smoothly as it had been. As gaps appeared in their defence they resorted to pushing the limits of the law, straying offside, tackling the opposition scrum half without the ball and putting hands in the ruck. They compounded this by continually failing to retreat 10m when penalties were awarded against them. The referee didn’t help matters by using an arm signal that was halfway between awarding a penalty and a scrum and allowing Rainey to take quick penalties a long way from the mark.
The result was a very scrappy second half performance with little sign of the control that was evident in the first half. Captain, Ally Jones, did all that could be asked of him in keeping the team calm and focused but the penalties continued and Rainey grew in confidence. From one tap and go, some 5m ahead of where the offence was committed, Rainey broke through a ragged ERGS back line to bring the score to 12 points all. Another series of penalties against Royal for infringements in the ruck led to another Rainey try which was converted.
ERGS deserve great credit for sticking to their game and John Fitzpatrick and Albert Gauley deserve great credit for leading a charge that gave the visitors the next six minutes of play in front of the Rainey posts. A harsh call of “double movement” against Fitzpatrick, who was presenting the ball at the bottom of a ruck, deprived ERGS of chance to level the match.
Sadly, there was an abysmal failure by Royal to organise their defence against the attack that ensued from the penalty and Rainey ran the length of the pitch to score their fourth try.
This was the all the more bitter because ERGS were slowly getting back into their flow at this stage of the match, rookies were finding their feet, the number of mistakes was being reduced and partnerships were being formed. Proof of this came in the final couple of minutes as ERGS overwhelmed Rainey. A 30m break from the mobile Gauley took ERGS close to the Rainey line where the visitors carefully maintained control of the ball and waited patiently for the inevitable gap. Scrum half, Matthew Bothwell, darted through the opening when it came and his try brought a little reality to the score line of a match that was a tightly contested but erratic affair that finished 24-17.
Despite the late revival it is clear that the team needs more time together, more education on penalty offences and more organisation in defence. They are a talented young team who bring to mind Longfellow’s poem, “when they are good they are very, very, good and when they are bad………….. “!
Try scorers:- Ben Donaldson, Stewart Brown, Matthew Bothwell.
Conversions:- George Foster.